Saturday, January 09, 2016

Achieving a Personal Crisis

"Thank you for honoring my life. Just wish I knew what to do with the rest of it."

Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer)

When one mentions a lifetime achievement award, one thinks of a recipient who is old, possibly even recently deceased. One doesn't think of someone like Frasier (Kelsey Grammer), a young (well, middle–aged) professional with many productive years ahead of him.

But, like a stroke or a heart attack, a lifetime achievement award doesn't always come to someone in his 70s or 80s. And so it was with Frasier on the show that bore his name 15 years ago tonight in an episode called "Frasier's Edge."

Frasier was the recipient of Seattle Broadcasters' Lifetime Achievement Award, which was a prestigious award but burdened by that negative image. When Frasier was telling his father (John Mahoney) about it, he observed that the lifetime achievement award was customarily given to much older people.

He was doing all right until he received a congratulatory basket of flowers from his college mentor, Dr. Tewksbury (Rene Auberjonois), who was taking his sabbatical at the University of Washington, with a card that said "You must be very proud." That triggered a crisis for Frasier. Why speculation instead of declaration — like "I'm proud of you," for example?

So characteristically obsessive Frasier went to see his mentor before the banquet where he was to receive his award and demanded an answer. He was disappointed.

Turned out the professor had asked his secretary to write the card. There was no hidden meaning. Frasier had been overanalyzing, which the audience knew he was prone to do.

But Frasier was experiencing even more of a crisis than he or Dr. Tewksbury had imagined. The card was only the tip of the iceberg. Frasier decided it was a classic example of a midlife crisis. Dr. Tewksbury correctly interpreted the situation: Frasier was experiencing deep emotional conflicts, which Dr. Tewksbury tried to resolve by having Frasier treat himself as if he were a caller on his show.

After making several attempts with standard psychiatric exercises, all of which Dr. Tewksbury criticized, Frasier confessed to the caller (himself) — "I'm sorry. I can't help you."

A sub–story in that episode involved Daphne (Jane Leeves), who was gaining weight thanks to her own emotional issues. In reality, the actress was pregnant so the story line was being written to suggest that she was experiencing an eating disorder. Only Niles (David Hyde Pierce) seemed not to notice that she had gained so much weight.

Anyway, at the awards dinner, everyone was waiting for Frasier to arrive and give his speech. Everyone was on edge — except Daphne, who was happily eating the individual quiches at the table. Frasier's father got up to speak, to kill some time — and to reinforce something he had been trying to do all evening: Give Niles' ego a boost. Martin had admitted earlier that he had been concerned about how Niles would take his brother's award, and he embarked on a campaign of reassurance and positive reinforcement.

Niles kept telling him that wasn't necessary, but Martin insisted on doing things like give Niles a mug that had "World's Greatest Psychiatrist" written on it.

Before long, Leeves would temporarily leave the show to have her baby, then would return. In the series' time line, her character would recognize that she was having problems and would seek treatment — and would come back 60 pounds lighter, according to the story line.

Finally Frasier showed up. His session with Dr. Tewksbury had failed to resolve his personal crisis, but he walked to the dais and accepted the award. The audience finished applauding and waited to hear what he had to say. It wasn't a long wait.

"Thank you for honoring my life," Frasier said. "Just wish I knew what to do with the rest of it."

And with that he picked up his award, turned and walked off, leaving a bewildered audience behind.

I thought that raised a good point.

Harry Truman once said it was hell trying to find work when you've been president of the United States. By the same token, it must be hell trying to find something to do with your life when you've been given a lifetime achievement award.